In the 110 or so years that Western Michigan has been playing football, they had never beaten a Top 25 team.
After their 35-30 victory to deny No. 24 Toledo a MAC Championship Game bid, they can cross that accomplishment off their "to do" list.
With nothing to lose, PJ Fleck's squad played their hearts out in a solid performance. They got big plays on both sides of the ball, and kept the high powered Rocket offense in check. Corey Davis helped lead the way, with a pair of big touchdowns, and Kareem Hunt never got too out of hand in a game that swayed both ways.
It started well for Western Michigan. They forced a three-and-out, then quickly struck on a three play drive. After Daniel Braverman had a big 54 yard catch, Tom Flacco had a 17-yard touchdown run to open the scoring. Fleck then added some trickeration, using his freshman QB on a fake PAT to run in a two-point conversion to make it 8-0 early on. After the Rockets answered with a Phillip Ely pass to Alex Zmolik to make it 8-7, Andrew Haldeman came on for a 31-yard field goal to make it 11-7 after the first quarter.
The Broncos looked poised to try and get another score early in the 2nd. Despite being backed up near their own end zone, they were able to move the ball well and appeared to be on their way to another score. However, DeJuan Rogers forced a Jamauri Bogan fumble to give the Rockets great field position. Hunt would take the very next play and bounce off a pair of Broncos on his way to a 28-yard touchdown run and a 14-11 lead.
That lead would not last long, as it was the start of a sequence of blows between the teams. Two plays later, Davis caught a screen pass from Zach Terrell and took it 76 yards to retake the lead at 18-14. Four plays later, Corey Jones burned Darius Phillips for a 56-yard gain, and Terry Swanson would punch in the 1-yard touchdown to give the Rockets the lead back at 21-18.
However, the turning point of the game would come on the ensuing Bronco drive. With the Broncos unable to convert on a 3rd-and-10, they elected to punt. J Schroeder booted one that rolled around mid-field, and Alonzo Russell elected to attempt to pick up the ball. However, it went five-hole on him, and WMU recovered. A few plays later, Davis caught another screen pass - this time on a weird 20-yard drop-back by Terrell - and took it 30 yards to the house to make it 25-21 just before the half.
And as back-and-forth the scoring went in the 1st half, it was an even more impressive defensive battle in the 2nd.
The Broncos came down the field to score on the opening possession of the 2nd half to make it 32-21. However, that score would hold up most of the way with the teams trading blows in wet conditions. The Rockets would drive on the ensuing possession, but would stall out on 4th-and-1, with Hunt getting stuffed by Jarrell McKinney and Ronald Zamort, both seniors.
Western Michigan would stall again, and the Rockets would drive down the field again, but would settle for a field goal to make it a one possession game just before the start of the 4th. The Broncos would punt again, and the Rockets would begin to drive before the most damning play of the game would occur.
With the Broncos stopping the Rockets to force a 3rd-and-9, Ely found Hunt on a screen pass for a huge gain down to the WMU 16. However, Asantay Brown laid on the turf in the middle of the field motionless. After a long period of time, he was carted off the field on a stretcher and taken to a local hospital. After a short review, the officials ejected Russell for this hit on the Bronco safety.
Here's the hit Russell gave Brown. pic.twitter.com/67W8L35JGv— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) November 27, 2015
"The commissioner is reviewing the play as we speak," PJ Fleck said after the game. Fleck also said that Brown is in good hands.
"[Brown] has feeling and movement in his hands and feet," he said following the win. "They are being very precautious with him right now. We ask anyone here in Toledo or who saw the game to pray."
After the penalty, the Rockets were forced to settle for a short pass to Hunt again, and punt. The Broncos responded with a 4-minute drive that ended in a 38-yard field goal for Haldeman to make it a two-score game once more with just under 7 minutes left.
On the next drive, Ely struggled to hold onto the ball. He would drop a couple snaps, slip on the turf, and even dropped a ball for no apparent reason with Toledo needing a score. Still, he was able to lead his team down the field and put them in position to make it a one possession game again on a short field goal. But the holder could not handle the ball as well, and was dropped for a loss of 10, and a turnover on downs.
Toledo would get the ball again and score quickly on a two-play drive with Ely finding Dionte Johnson to make it 35-30. Ely couldn't convert the 2-point conversion to make it a field goal game, and the onside kick fell well short of a solid try to end the game.
In all, Terrell finished 12-for-20 for 247 yards and 2 scores. He was only sacked once, and didn't throw an interception on the day. Flacco was well in the little relief he played. To go with the touchdown and two-point conversion, he had a 25 yard shovel pass and led the Broncos with 60 yards rushing on just 5 carries. LeVante Bellamy had 49 yards on 13 carries and Jarvion Franklin even added 31 yards on 7 carries. Davis led all receivers with 6 catches for 139 yards and the two scores. Braverman had 82 yards on 4 catches (trailed only Davis in both for the game overall).
For the Rockets, Ely had a bad game. His 16-for-33 line for 280 yards is overshadowed by his inability to hit receivers and hold onto the ball late. He had two scores and a sack like Terrell, but never really found a consistent rhythm. Hunt finished with 139 yards and a score on the ground, and had Swanson help out with 69 yards and a score. Cody Thompson led the Rockets with 96 yards receiving on just two catches. Russell had just 30 yards on 2 catches before leaving the game.
Now, both teams are MAC West Co-Champions with Northern Illinois and Central Michigan. However, the Huskies are headed to Detroit for a sixth straight year by owning the combined head-to-head tiebreaker over CMU and Toledo, and the individual head-to-head over the Broncos. The Rockets (9-2, 6-2) and Broncos (7-5, 6-2) await their invites to bowl games, of which their almost assured of.